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The Librarian’s Challenge: Finding Room for the Books

The Librarian’s Challenge: Finding Room for the Books

A curated collection of photos celebrates World Book Day on Twitter, presenting stunning architectural designs dedicated to the proposition that even in the Digital Age, books are worthy of beautiful spaces. From San Diego to Singapore to Seattle, these buildings are as inspirational as they are functional. But in many of the photos, the shelves seem quite crowded. With ever-increasing numbers of books being published every year, libraries are challenged to find sufficient space to house their collections.

And as Audrey Barbakoff reports in Library Journal, today’s libraries are hosting much more “people activity” these days. In the past, patrons came to the library primarily to check out books or do research. Libraries now serve as community meeting places, internet cafes, classrooms, even yoga studios. Flexible usage is required of library interiors today, and librarians must carve out space from the stacks to accommodate the new demands, all within their existing footprint.

Fortunately, storage technology has stepped up to the challenge with creative products that condense collections without making them difficult to access. Barbakoff enumerates the solutions:

  1. Compact high-density shelving with customizable finishes complement a library’s design aesthetic, while contributing to its “green rating” by reducing energy usage.
  2. AS/RS “book bots” let libraries condense their collections into narrow floor-to-ceiling aisles to small for humans but just right for speedy little robots. They eliminate safety concerns about ladders and falling cartons, and they can be fun for library visitors to watch.
  3. Shared storage spreads the cost of storage space and inventory management among several libraries, as well as letting them share the contents of their collections and reduce excess duplicates.

Additionally, furnishings such as these Swiftspace workstations can be reconfigured as study carrels, collaborative workstations, or small conference areas, letting libraries meet the varying needs of their patrons without having to invest in specialized furnishings. When the workstations aren’t in use, they fold up for compact storage.

Library guru David Lankes is quoted as saying that the mission of librarians is “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” Librarians will always have to make decisions about what to display and what to store – there are simply too many books in the world – but with the right storage systems and furnishings, they can stop worrying about space utilization, and instead focus on their primary mission.